Presidio of San Francisco

San Francisco & Golden Gate Recreation Area: Places to Experience Parks

February 17, 2011, 1:16 pm

San Francisco is famed for its Painted Ladies, Chinatown, Golden Bridge and glorious bay. However, there is much more to this town than Ghirardelli Square and Lombard Street. Check out some of the exciting outdoor activities that San Francisco has to offer.

Within the greater San Francisco area there are multiple historic sites and parks. The Golden Gate National Recreation Area spans 75,398 acres of land and water and, as such, is one of the largest urban national parks in the world. The recreation area itself is 2.5 times the size of San Francisco and 28 miles of coastline sit within its parameters.

Alcatraz Island
Alcatraz Island holds a notorious reputation for housing some of America's worst criminals. However, the penitentiary island did not start out with that intent. Initially Alcatraz served as a military base beginning in 1850. For 84 years the rock helped guard San Francisco. On the base there was a lighthouse and a military prison. Sitting in the middle of the San Francisco Bay, the prison created a world of isolation for inmates. The island became a penitentiary in 1934 and continued to be used as such for 29 years. Murders, tax evaders, bootleggers and burglars all took up residence on the rock. Al Capone is perhaps one of the most famous inmates to spend time in Alcatraz. The Chicago gangster, known for his role in planning the St. Valentine's Day Massacre of 1929, spent four and a half years living in the prison. Alcatraz serves as an American icon and today can be toured. Take the ferry from Pier 33 over to the island, make sure to plan 2-3 hours for you trip.

Muir Woods National Monument
In 1905 William Kent donated 295 acres of coastal redwoods to the government, which is now a monument honoring conservationist John Muir. The old growth trees were spared from almost certain logging and became one small patch of redwoods that once dominated the scenery. Take a stroll on the trails through the trees to explore the staggering giants. Some of the older trees in the park started growing almost 1,000 years ago and are still standing tall. The tallest tree in the monument stands at 252 feet and has bark that is 12 inches thick! Stand next to a tree 14 feet wide and get lost in what feels like a forest from the times when dinosaurs roamed the earth.

Angel Island State Park
Angel Island sits smack in the middle of the San Francisco Bay and provides an extremely close getaway. The island features many activities including biking, hiking, camping, boating and touring. For those interested in the wildlife, California sea lions and harbor seals enjoy relaxing on the sunny rocks of the island, so be sure to bring along your camera to snap that memorable shot. For those history lovers, take a tour of the U.S. Immigration Station. The station processed close to a million people coming over to the U.S. to live on the west coast.

Point Reyes National Seashore
Don’t leave San Francisco without heading north to the Point Reyes National Seashore. Point Reyes is know for being located right near the migratory pattern of one of the largest mammals in the world, the Pacific Gray Whale. The winter is the best time to see the whales while they migrate from Alaska all the way down to Baja. Channel your inner Captain Ahab and set sail! For those land lovers, there is still plenty to do at Point Reyes. Take in breathtaking views of the California coast or go horseback riding near the shore. Be sure to check out the town of Point Reyes, which is home to the amazing Cowgirl Creamery.

Presidio of San Francisco
The Presidio encompasses multiple historic sites, numerous trail and great locations to go fishing. The San Francisco National Military Cemetery, Fort Point, China Beach and Baker Beach all fall within the bounds of the Presidio. The Golden Gate Promenade, a 3.5-mile trail along the bay, runs past some of the areas most historical sites and right up to the bridge. The Promenade is a great location for a short walk with beautiful views. The Presidio is also a popular spot for pier fishing and crabbing.

Vista Point
If you are searching for the perfect picture of the Golden Gate Bridge and the San Francisco skyline, search no further. At Vista Point, you can take in the stunning view from the other side of the bay. Don’t forget to hit up the Roundhouse for all your Golden Gate Bridge souvenirs. At one time, the building served as a restaurant for those passing by and heading into the city.  Vista Point is the first stop off after crossing the Golden Gate Bridge out of San Francisco to the north.

Fort Point
Fort Point is rich in history from the Civil War and situated directly underneath the Golden Gate Bridge. Fort Point sits right on the bay, so close in fact that crabbing demonstrations are given 10 a.m. – noon from March to October. It’s a great place to take in the view of the water. For those interested in touring the fort, there are a variety of options. Visitors can take a self-guided tour or one led by a ranger. Learn how to load a cannon, how soldiers lived and how the fort was built while touring the site. There are also two short films offered, one about the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge and the other on the history of Fort Point.